Heirloom Tomatoes

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If you’re like us, you remember some delicious, homegrown tomatoes you ate as a kid that actually tasted like tomatoes. Commercially bred varieties look uniformly attractive—firm, round, and red—but you have to admit, the taste is lacking, or even non-existent. 

Heirlooms can be quite beautiful—or not. They’ve got personality; but more importantly, they always deliver that old fashioned tangy-sweet flavor that seeing them brings to mind. That’s why we grow heirlooms.

One other nice fact: choosing heirlooms is a way to preserve the classic crops our grandparents and great grandparents enjoyed before us. As a new generation experiences some mouth-watering heirloom selections, we hope even more tomato fans will climb aboard the bandwagon.

Here are 10 of our favorite heirloom tomatoes:

TOM BigBeef

1. ‘Big Beef’

Widely considered to be the best all-around tomato, ‘Big Beef’ produces extra large red fruits that balance sweetness and tang—for that old-fashioned, home-grown tomato flavor. Known for its firmness and resistance to splitting, this meaty variety is great to slice for sandwiches or salads. ‘Big Beef’ puts forth twice the yield of other giant beefsteak tomato plants, plus it matures earlier for a nice, long harvesting period. 

Available in the 1801 flat, 4.5-inch pot, and staked in the #1 pot.

TOM BlackKrim

2. ‘Black Krim’

Soldiers returning from the Crimean War in the 19th century brought the seeds back and shared them—that’s how this heirloom made its way to Europe from the Isle of Krim in the Black Sea. Medium-to-large beefsteaks are very dark red-purple, turning almost black with enough sunlight and heat. ‘Black Krim’ is extremely juicy, with a rich, full, sweet flavor—upscale chefs can’t get enough of it.

Available in the 1801 flat.

TOM Brandywine

3. ‘Brandywine’

This is it—the most popular heirloom tomato. Large beefsteak fruits—often weighing over a pound each—are deep red-pink, with smooth red flesh that’s luscious and sweet. They ripen late, but you’ll be glad you waited. ‘Brandywine’ is widely considered to be the best-tasting tomato and is a favorite of many gardeners. It dates back to 1885. 

Available in the 1801 flat and the 4.5-inch pot.

TOM EarlyGirl

4. ‘Early Girl’

She’s the first one to the party and the last to leave, producing fruit longer than other tomatoes of a similar medium size. Smooth, red-skinned, and meaty, ‘Early Girl’ is a longtime favorite for slicing. This juicy tomato has a rich, tangy flavor you simply cannot find in grocery store varieties. Expect a high yield from these vigorous plants.

Available in the 1801 flat, 4.5-inch pot, and staked in the #1 pot.

TOM MortgageLifter

5. ‘Mortgage Lifter’

The legend lives on: developed in the 1930s by a tomato gardener facing bankruptcy, ‘Mortgage Lifter’ saved the day. Huge pink beefsteaks, weighing up to 4 lbs. each (they average 2-1/2 lbs.), are meaty and full of rich, sweet flavor—but they won’t win any beauty contests. Plants produce an abundance of fruit.

Available in the 1801 flat and the 4.5-inch pot.

6. ‘Old German’

A Mennonite heirloom, this selection dates back to the mid-1800s in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. It produces large multicolor beefsteaks, weighing 1–2 lbs. each, that are meaty and sweet. Both the skin and the flesh are streaked yellow and red, making this one of the more decorative heirloom varieties.

Available in the 4.5-inch pot.

7. ‘Opalka’

We’ve heard it called the Polish torpedo, probably in reference to its elongated shape and its Polish heritage, circa 1900. ‘Opalka’ is known for producing one of the best paste tomatoes: extremely meaty, with very few seeds and a rich, sweet flavor. Red tomatoes are 5 inches long and weigh about 7–8 oz. each.

Available in the 4.5-inch pot.

8. ‘Rutgers’

TOM Rutgers

Here’s a fine heirloom from New Jersey, developed in 1934 by a scientist at Rutgers University. It’s a cross between JTD, an old New Jersey variety from the Campbell Soup Company, and ‘Marglobe’. Medium-sized, round red fruits weigh 6–12 oz. each and have a mild, sweet flavor—would you be surprised to hear they’re good for canning?

Available in the 4.5-inch pot.

TOM Marzano

9. ‘San Marzano’

From Italy, it’s the famous paste tomato with a rich, sweet taste that’s also great for cooking in general. Many celebrity chefs use ‘San Marzano’ exclusively. We featured this variety in our January 19th Field Notes newsletter.

Available in the 4.5-inch pot.

TOM Sugary

10. ‘Sugary’

Cherry tomato fans, this one is for you. Little, 1-inch dark pink fruits are super sweet—just the way you like them. ‘Sugary’ is known for huge yields; large clusters of tomatoes are produced all summer on compact plants that work well in containers and patio pots.

Available in the 1801 flat and the 4.5-inch pot.